Looking for a wine job in Bordeaux? Fantastic – join the club! There’s a variety of wine business, hospitality and technical schools, and each tasks its students with getting out there and finding work. It’s also a pretty city surrounded by some of the world’s best vineyards, so it attracts working professionals from home and abroad, too.
Finding a wine job in Bordeaux can be trickier than it seems, even for experienced professionals.
Why I wanted a wine job in Bordeaux
I came to Bordeaux in 2015 after three years in wine retail in my native Dublin, Ireland. It was through retailing that I fell in love with wine, though I felt that enough was enough and I wanted to do something else. I opted to pursue an MBA in wine marketing and management, one of several such courses offered at the city’s various business schools. The program was taught entirely in English and had a mix of French and international students.
As part of the program, I had to secure a six-month wine internship or work placement, known in France as a stage. There was no obligation to do this in Bordeaux, though I felt it would be a wasted opportunity to go elsewhere.
In the end, I couldn’t have been happier with the internship I did find. I joined the commercial team at Château Palmer, one of the leading wine estates in the region. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with and learn from a great team. The process of actually finding work was a lot more complicated than I’d anticipated, however – and my experience wasn’t unique.
How to find a wine job in Bordeaux
As an international wine business student with little French and few professional contacts, I found the jobs market in Bordeaux to be tough. The process was more laborious and took longer than I had expected. For anybody who may be considering a similar path, I’ve put together a few tips borne out of trial and error, frustration and, ultimately, a winning combination of naive optimism and stubborn perseverance.
1. Be realistic
Never sell yourself short, but a little self-awareness and rudimentary understanding of the jobs market will go a long way. There are a lot of wine students and other qualified candidates out there. Even entry-level internships have a lot of competition. Take stock of what you’ve done and what you can do, and keep that in mind when deciding the sort of positions for which you’re going to apply.
Certain things, like French fluency, are often deal breakers for employers. I slowly came to accept this after deciding I’d received quite enough very polite rejection emails en Français. The good people at Baron Philippe de Rothschild were even courteous enough to send me physical letters in the post. If I’d been a little more realistic a little earlier, I would’ve saved myself some time and effort – and saved a certain Baron some petty cash.
2. Monitor jobs boards
It’s an obvious one, but go where the jobs are. Vitijob is probably the best bet for Bordeaux wine jobs. It covers the rest of France and some international stuff, too. You can filter by region, type of work, contract and all that stuff.
If I were doing it today, I would focus on the most recent postings and wouldn’t waste too much time on historical jobs – the chances are that they’ve been filled, or that the recruiter already has an inbox full of potential candidates. Some schools have their own internal jobs boards, so take a look at those too.
3. Research potential employers
Developing an understanding of the Bordeaux wine trade will help you navigate it most effectively. A little work can yield a lot of handy information about Bordeaux wine companies. Google is your best friend here and will help you find things like this list of Bordeaux négociants, including contact details. This is very useful if you aren’t applying for an advertised job and are instead looking to work at a certain company, by sending what they call a “spontaneous” application.
I suggest that you do some more research into individual companies before sending out generic emails in bulk, though. If you must go down the bulk route, at least save yourself some time (and upskill a little while you’re at it) by learning how to use MailChimp or something similar.
4. Target the right people
Particularly for spontaneous applications, I seriously recommend that you do a little research and, at the very least, find out the name of the individual to whom you’re writing. A quick Google or a glance at the company’s website will often do the trick. The more you know about the person, the more you can customise your application and the better your chances become of them opening or reading your email.
5. Don’t get lost in translation
If you speak French: Write your CV and application in French, following French formatting, and skip this point.
If you don’t, be careful. Writing an application in French (or having an ami do it for you) will boost your chances of it being opened, read and your candidature considered. Of course, what happens next is that a French person will call you. If you can’t carry a conversation in French, don’t waste your time or theirs.
On a related note, do yourself a favour and resolve to learn French dès que possible!
6. Visit wineries
If you’re physically in Bordeaux, hit the road and start visiting some wineries. This is the most effective way to get a sense of the Bordeaux vineyard and understand what makes certain parts of it so special – and it’s a lot of fun! Some places charge for visits, many don’t. Some of those that do will give you a discount or waive your fee if you’re in the industry.
Gather a group of friends, classmates or strangers and organise as many châteaux visits as you can. Try to mix it up between big and small producers to get a more accurate sense of what things are like. There’s nothing wrong with visiting Lafite, but make sure you see Listrac, too. If you have a particular interest in a specialist area, for example, vineyard management or digital communications, say so in advance and you just might get to meet somebody who does that sort of thing day in and day out.
Whether you meet the owner, the winemaker or an intern, each visit is an opportunity to make new professional contacts, and that’s never a bad thing as a job seeker.
7. Ask your school for help
Bordeaux’s various wine schools have a lot of ties to the local industry. Visit your careers office or equivalent and discuss your experience with them. They’ll have all sorts of advice, probably better than mine, and also may be well placed to know of upcoming opportunities that never make it to jobs boards. Asking for a simple introduction to a well-placed professional can make a big difference.
8. Talk to your peers
Bordeaux operates like a small town sometimes. Word of mouth carries weight, so speak with your classmates and other contacts.
Chatting with a classmate, I mentioned that I’d applied to a particular company and hadn’t heard back. She told me that the person I had contacted had left the company sometime before, and they were quietly looking for a replacement. The website had evidently not been updated, and my email never read. I re-sent my application to a director and got the interview within a day or two. It didn’t work out in the end, but it was close. It never hurts to talk!
9. Be persistent
Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel didn’t give up, and neither should you. Don’t be afraid of rejection, and don’t let rejection get to you. What’s worse, and a lot more common is simply hearing nothing. Get over it. Figure out what isn’t working and try something new. As tempting as it may be, don’t give up. Keep applying. There’s an element of luck involved, and it can come down to being in the right place at the right time. Cheat the system by making sure you’re in lots of places at any one time!